Congressman-elect Ami Bera addressed a large crowd of jubilant supporters outside his campaign headquarters here Nov. 18, three days after defeating Republican incumbent Dan Lungren to capture California’s 7th District congressional seat.
The celebration brought an end to one of the country’s most tightly-contested races. Democrat Bera survived election night Nov. 6 ahead by 184 votes. His lead widened the following Tuesday – Nov. 13 – and the Associated Press finally called the race for Bera on Nov. 15, when poll numbers indicated he was ahead by 5,696 votes. Bera finished with 130,566 votes while Lungren trailed with 124, 870 votes.
The five-term congressman did not immediately concede, but gave up the race a day later. A recent redistricting of the region gave Democrats a slight edge and the House a new “blue” seat.
Standing atop a white flatbed truck on the blustery afternoon, the lone Indian American member of Congress, along with his wife Janine and his daughter Sydra, thanked his volunteers and young campaign staff. Bera’s large team of more than 2,800 volunteers made 300,000 calls across the district, the largest phone-banking effort in the nation during this election cycle.
The Southern California native – whose parents migrated from India 50 years ago – said the incoming crop of freshmen represents the most diverse Congress in the nation’s history for its inclusion of women and minorities. Bera had attended congressional “freshman orientation” last week even as his political future was being determined by the California Secretary of State’s office.
“Look at the diversity around you,” said the physician, looking into the packed crowd filled with people of varying ethnicities, including a broad sprinkling of Indian Americans. “This is what America has mandated,” he stated to cheers and chants of “Ami, Ami.”
Bera cautioned his supporters from thinking that he could provide an immediate fix to his district’s troubles. “But know from day one, you will have a voice in Congress,” he said, to more cheers and chants from his audience.
Bera is the third Indian American to gain a seat in Congress, following Dilip Singh Saund, a California agriculturalist who served three terms in Congress beginning in 1957; and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who won a congressional seat in 2005.
The battle to capture California’s 7th District congressional seat also made history as one of the most-expensive races ever for a House seat. A reported $8 million was spent by both candidates – approximately $22 per vote.
At the victory celebration, Bera’s supporters said they were looking for a change from veteran politician Lungren.
The 7th congressional district is home to record numbers of jobless people, with more than 10 percent of its residents unemployed. Bera told India-West in a Nov. 11 interview that job creation for the region would be his number one focus once attaining office.
Local resident Angelica Heaphy told India-West her biggest immediate concern was for comprehensive immigration reform. “Mr. Lungren wants to send my people back to their country but we live here and contribute to America,” she said.
Heaphy is the daughter of migrant farmworkers and spent her school vacations working in the fields, alongside her parents. “My biggest dread was summer,” she said with a laugh. Heaphy nevertheless graduated from California State University, Chico and spent a few years at the state capitol before retiring to become a full-time home-maker. Her eldest son is now attending military academy and will eventually join the U.S. Air Force, she said.
While campaigning, Bera said he supported President Barack Obama’s executive order issued this June that halts deportations for undocumented youth. Bera has also said he supports the DREAM Act, along with comprehensive immigration reform.
A group of Sikh American volunteers from the nearby Rio Linda gurdwara jointly told India-West about their support for Bera, adding that they had supported the aspiring politician through both of his runs for national office. They hoped Bera would immediately address the issue of hate crimes, which has garnered national attention in the wake of the Aug. 5 massacre at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc.
Young volunteer Suyash Pandey, who attends high school and hopes to eventually work with the United Nations, told India-West he was hugely critical of Lungren’s support to cut $125 million from California K-12 education and to eliminate after-school programs that serve 26,000 California students.
Lungren also voted to eliminate Head Start for 14,000 low-income children in his district, reported the Elk Grove Patch.
“We need to support music and arts programs in our schools so that I can continue to play my trumpet and my sister can continue arts,” said Pandey, adding that Bera has inspired him towards a career in public service. His young sister Sukanya told India-West that she too was inspired by Bera and hopes to become a physician.
Janine Bera, Ami Bera’s wife, told India-West the family would not be moving to Washington, D.C. “Ami needs to spend time here, understanding the needs of the people in his district,” said Janine Bera, adding with a smile that the family would also occasionally enjoy trips to Washington, D.C.
Janine Bera, who is also a physician, said momentum for her husband’s successful bid for Congress had been gathering over the past four years.
The Beras have been married for 16 years and have a daughter, Sydra, who is 14.
In a statement from D.C., last week, Bera commended Lungren on his long history of public service.